Saturday, 23 January 2010

Haraway and Object Oriented Ontology

I’m pasting some elements of Levi Bryant’s response to my proposed paper on Feminist Metaphysics as Object Oriented Ontology below.
In the world of cultural studies and the humanities, I think there have been a number of privileged sites that have been directed towards bucking the primacy of anti-realist or correlationist thought than other disciplines by virtue of the nature of the objects that constitute their object of investigation. These theorists have not, of course, in most cases baldly stated their work as a debate between realism and anti-realism, but their work has nonetheless inevitably led them to thinking being in such a way that it is not simply a discourse, language, or a correlation with the human.
Paradoxically, these privileged sites have largely been marginalized in the world of academia and the humanities; no doubt because of the hegemony of anti-realist thought or the status of correlationism as the establishment position. Among these privileged sites I would include environmental philosophy and thought, science and technology studies, critical animal theory, geographical studies, writing technology studies, media studies, queer theory, and, of course, feminist philosophy and thought. I am sure that there are many others that don’t immediately come to mind for me. If these have been privileged sites for the development of significant conceptual innovations in the field of realist ontology, then this is because all of these sites of investigation force encounters with real and nonhuman objects and actors that cannot be reduced to correlates of human thought, language, perception, or use but that have to be approached in their own autonomous being to properly be thought.
The point here, then, is that these privileged yet marginalized sites of realist thought are, in so many respects, ground-zero for object-oriented ontology. The conceptual innovations and creations, the ontological discoveries, that inhabit these sites require, demand, from object-oriented ontologists the most careful scrutiny and attention for there is a wealth of ontological riches to be found in these sites. Here OOO/OOP learns from these sites of research and engagement, not the reverse. For these thinkers were all object-oriented ontologists before anyone thought to name themselves “object-oriented ontologists”.

To the above points I must simply agree. Moreover, Levi’s words here and elsewhere reminded me where some of my positive predispositions towards a future “Object-Oriented” and anti-correlationist stance probably began. Specifically, it was sometime in the mid/late 1990s when I encountered the writings of Donna Haraway and was particularly interested in the manner in which her ecofeminist and cyborg manifesto commitments converged. It was definitely one of those rare eureka moments when you discover someone who is saying something that you have been struggling to articulate for some time yourself. Looking back on her work now - that is, following my recent encounters with OOO and SR - it is quite amazing how many parallels and resources there are that need revisiting (as Levi notes, ‘these people were ... object-oriented ontologists before anyone thought to name themselves “object-oriented ontologists”). I can’t lay my hands on my copy of Penley and Ross’s (1991) Technoculture, where Haraway makes some of these intriguing claims, so I'm using a segment from Jim Cheney’s exellent article ‘Nature/Theory/ Difference’. He begins by noting Haraway’s
idea that we reconceive the object of knowledge (the world – not just humans) as “agent in the productions of knowledge.” Pointing out that Western conceptions of objectivity and the object of knowledge are historically constructed and “can seem to be either appropriations of a fixed and determined world reduced to resources for instrrumentalist projects of destructive Western societies, or ... masks for interests, usually dominating interests,” Haraway argues that objectivity in our accounts of the natural world require that we understand the “objects” of the world as actors and agents to be understood, not through a “logic of discovery,’” but through a “power-charged social relation of ‘conversation.’” She envisions “feminist theory as a reinvented coyote discourse” with actors who “come in many and wonderful forms” ...
She stresses that in speaking of the “objects” of the natural world as actors/agents she is not thereby characterizing them as subjects with languages. Hers is the “project of finding the metaphors [e.g. coyote and trickster] that allow you to imagine a knowledge situation that does not set up an active/passive split” ... What she is searching for is “a concept of agency that opens up possibilities for figuring relationality within social worlds where actors fit oddly, at best, into previous taxa of the human, the natural, or the constructed.”

Now anyone reading this who has some familiarity with the current state of Object Oriented Ontology is probably thinking of points of cross-over and similarities that warrant closer examination. Indeed, this is something I’m starting to do myself, specifically with regard to publication. One of my recent thoughts was, ‘Did Haraway read or draw upon Latour?’ A quick check of the bibliography of Simians, Cyborgs and Women reveals a couple of Latour endnotes. I copy one of them here, emphasis is mine:
Latour’s brilliant and maddening aphoristic polemic against all forms of reductionism makes the essential point for feminists: ‘Mefiez-vous de la purete: c’est le vitriol de l’ame’. ... Latour is not otherwise a notable feminist theorist, but he might be made into one by readings as perverse as those he makes of the laboratory, that great machine for making significant mistakes faster than anyone else can, and so gaining world-changing power.
This is from her 1988 paper ‘Situated Knowledges’, I will be checking her later works in due course. Interesting material for anyone searching out allies for Object Oriented Ontology, though.


Kai said...

It's my understanding that there is a huge dialogue between Haraway and Latour that doesn't always appear in either of their works, although they will cite each other from time to time (moreso in each of their later works). I have seen it pop up much more often in interviews with Haraway, where she has often noted how she has tried to push Latour to think more about how his project fails to engage feminism in particular. There is certainly a tension-friendship between them, and they know each other (and each other's work) quite well.

Paul Reid-Bowen said...

Thanks Kai,

That is what I half suspected would be the case, one of the problems with starting with the earlier (22 year old) material and working forwards. I vaguely remembered some reference to Latour in Primate Visions but hadn't got around to it yet. Any notable interviews you can remember?


shane said...

You might also want to check out _Chasing Technoscience: Matrix for Materiality_, edited by Don Ihde and Evan Selinger, which seeks to establish a dialogue between Haraway, Latour, Andrew Pickering, and Don Ihde.

Paul Reid-Bowen said...

Cheers Shane, it looks as if some of these conversations have been taking place for some time, just a matter of getting up to speed on what has been said. Often the case when you initially think wouldn't it be great if X and Y either read or talked to each other; then, lo and behold, it turns out they have been. Plenty of mileage in seeing just where they agree, disagree and effect/perturb one another, though.